WATERVILLE — Speakers with perspectives both close to Maine and from abroad are scheduled to address the graduates and audience at Thomas College’s 120th Commencement on Saturday.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is the commencement speaker, a decision that delighted undergraduate speaker Scarlett Stevens, a criminal justice student from Bradford, who interned for Collins during her junior year and is speaking at commencement, representing the undergraduate class.
“That’s really cool that she’s speaking,” said Stevens, who is graduating magna cum laude.
Collins and Stevens join graduate speaker Javier Abascal Carrasco, of Seville, Spain, who will be receiving his master of business administration degree from Thomas College’s accelerated master’s program. Collins will be receiving an honorary degree from the college.
“It’s an honor to be asked to address this outstanding graduating class at Thomas College and to recognize the dedication and hard work of all of the students,” Collins said in a statement. “My message to the class of 2014 will be to ‘listen, learn and lead,’ and I look forward to sharing this special day with them.”
The speakers represent what the college is about, according to Thomas College President Laurie Lachance.
“I have had the pleasure of getting to know both Javier and Scarlett well, and they stand for so much of what Thomas is about — hard work, professionalism and dedication to their community here. They are terrific representatives at such an important event,” Lachance said in an email message. “The same is true for Sen. Collins, who is tireless and has committed herself to Maine her whole life. She’s sure to inspire our graduates and we are honored to have her as our honorary degree recipient this year.”
Graduating Saturday will be 198 students, the largest graduating class to date for the growing college.
It’s a class that Stevens is looking forward to addressing and representing, though she admitted it’s difficult cataloging four years into a single speech.
“There’s some pressure because I’ve known these people for four years, and how do I sum up four years’ worth of experiences?” Stevens said.
Not a stranger to public speaking, though, Stevens, 21, spoke at her high school commencement at Central High School in Corinth. The two speeches vary greatly, as there’s a much different message, she said.
“In high school, you’ve spent like the last 12 years — at least — with those people. It’s more personal,” Stevens said. “This one, it’s how you’ve grown and changed over those four years.
“I want to portray that growth and change really helped us and that our friendships are things we should try to keep as we progress,” she said. “It’s about the friendships that were built these four years. It’s how important they were to us and how we can build on those and how we can take those relationships and apply it to the real world we’re about to enter.”
Working at the library through a work-study program, participating as a resident assistant and becoming a member of the criminal justice club, Stevens was able to connect with many people on campus, from students to faculty to administration.
“I enjoyed the community here and everyone was friendly,” Stevens said. “I wanted to be part of a school and not just a number.”
Stevens, who is expecting nearly 50 friends and family members to attend the commencement, said when she looks back at her time at Thomas College, she’ll think of those friendships she fostered, as well as all the times those friends asked for help.
“I’ll remember all those study guides I had to make for not just me, but some of my friends,” Stevens said. “I guess I wrote the best study guides.”
While speakers Collins and Stevens represent the people of Maine who attend Thomas College, Abascal represents the college’s growing international footprint.
Abascal, 24, received his undergraduate degree in telecommunication engineering from the University of Seville and attended Dresden University of Technology in Germany for a year before attending Thomas College’s accelerated master’s program.
Most graduate programs are two-year programs, in which a student is working and classes are scheduled around the job. With a year until a work visa would be approved, Abascal didn’t want to waste time with a part-time program, so he began researching places with accelerated graduate programs.
“When I saw the different options, Thomas College was the only college offering my program in a one-year intensive schedule,” Abascal said. “It seems very weird. Why am I here? I knew nothing but Maine, only that it was famous for lobster and that it was looking for (information technology) people.”
After his one year in Maine, Abascal admitted, he doesn’t want to leave. Coming from a metropolis in southern Spain, he found life in the Pine Tree State couldn’t have been more foreign.
“One thing that has surprised me were the people,” he said. “The people are very nice, and I have never seen that before. I won’t forget the ambience and landscape of Maine. You don’t have that in a city. I’m from a city. Here I have a friend with a lake and a boat and a backyard, and I’ve never had that.”
Abascal is hoping to find a job in Maine or somewhere else in the U.S. in the next three months to secure his work visa.
The commencement is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center. The commencement will be streamed live starting at 12:15 p.m. on the Thomas College website.